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I stirred things up with a recent article suggesting there are too many teams in the three major football codes in Australia.
This generated heated debate and feisty discussion, and I copped a fair whack of criticism for making comparisons between our football codes and those in other countries, some of which people thought weren’t valid.
My point comparing Australia with other countries is that the stadiums of the teams of the top leagues in other countries are full every week, whereas we consistently see stadiums less than half full, particularly when it comes to NRL and Super Rugby.
I postulated that factors such as bums on seats, eyes on screens, the standard and intensity of play and the value for money for spectators could be improved if there weren’t so many teams.
One of the questions someone asked was which teams I would merge or cut and why. I would apply a business approach to this question, because professional sport is a business – Just ask AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, who said in the AFL’s 2017 annual report that, “Australian Football is among the largest individual business sectors within the sports and recreation industry.”
Any enterprise that generates hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars every year has to considered a business.
My simple, ruthless approach would be to look at average home game attendance figures over the past 20 years to determine which teams should go or merge with another team. I don’t think that where teams have finished on the ladder should necessarily come into it, because you can have well-supported teams that don’t always show up in the top four or top eight.
Melbourne, Newcastle, North Queensland, Canberra and New Zealand would have to stay, otherwise the sport would never develop further in those regions. I would merge Brisbane with Gold Coast, St George Illawarra with Canterbury-Bankstown, Parramatta with Penrith and Souths with Sydney.
The Melbourne-based teams of Collingwood, Essendon, Richmond, Carlton and Hawthorn can stand on their own two feet. Adelaide, Port Adelaide, West Coast and Fremantle need to stay separate because Adelaide and Perth can support two teams each and because it makes economic sense that their city stadiums are used every week. Geelong should stay because they almost fill their stadium every week.
I would merge Greater Western Sydney with Sydney, Brisbane with Gold Coast, North Melbourne with the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne with St Kilda.
We need only two teams from Australia, two from South Africa and three from New Zealand. Keep the teams from Argentina and Japan – the Jaguares are good and the game can be developed in Japan.
Add a Pacific Islands team comprising players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga – it’d be a huge drawcard. Forget all this conference nonsense, because it adds no value and is confusing. Each team plays 20 matches. The top four go into a finals series.
While there is always going to be heated debate on mergers, I would like to see economists produce some models on their impact.